Making Science “Fun”

I think this video is poorly advertised. Let me explain:

When I saw the title of this, I was skeptical. I thought I was going to see a video that described how we should be showing students all of the fascinating things that science offers. For chemistry in particular I hear too often from some teachers how we should do more “cool” demos and “blow stuff up” and get kids excited about science. However, their “excitement” seems to translate into an expectation of being entertained, and if things aren’t blowing up then science is boring. I’m not trying to say that a teenager’s desire to blow things up can’t be channeled into more explorative inquiries, but I don’t see doing more flash-bang demos as the way to encourage that.

Fortunately, that’s not what this video is about. I think a more appropriate title would be “Making Science Accessible“, or even “Making Science Engaging”, as it focuses on how textbooks are so focused on getting the science just right and using all of the appropriate scientific jargon even if it is completely unnecessary in the context of the desired learning. I think biology in particular is prone to over-vocabularizing (made that up), but chemistry is not far behind. There are many examples of words that are used to describe chemistry concepts, but are not always well-defined in an understandable fashion – atoms, molecules, solutions, chemical equations, subatomic particles, mass, units of measurement (especially moles!)… I could go on.

He does also make the point, which should be reiterated, that this is not a “dumbing down” of science content but rather communicating the science concepts in plain language (read: not unnecessarily technical); something that we as content “experts” often take for granted. A student who can use the word “atom” correctly in a sentence does not necessarily understand what an atom actually is.

Update:

I remembered what I consider one of the most egregious examples of this unnecessary verbiage as we were starting mole conversions today – “formula units”. Ugh. Is the distinction between formula units and molecules really necessary? What benefit is there to the students, other than the fact that they can mindlessly attach a unit along with Avogadro’s number that happens to match the units specified in the word problem? In the context of learning to do mole conversions, is it helpful or hurtful to make this distinction?